On Twitter


The Cross of Christ: Looking Below the Surface

As you know, I’m participating in this round of Reading Classics Together at Challies.com. This week I read the third chapter of John Stott’s The Cross of Christ.  This chapter, titled Looking Below the Surface, answers the question, “What was there about the crucifixion of Jesus which, in spite of its horror, shame and pain, makes it so important that God planned it in advance and Christ came to endure it?”

Stott answers this question with four points:

  1. Christ died for us.
  2. Christ died for us that he might bring us to God.
  3. Christ died for our sins.
  4. Christ died our death, when he died for our sins.

Of course, he doesn’t just list these points, but fleshes them out. I’m going to leave, however, them as bullet points and move on to the second section of this chapter, where Stott looks at three of the main scenes from Jesus’s last day—the Last Supper, the Garden of Gethsemene, and Jesus’s cry of dereliction on the cross—to see what Jesus said about what was happening and what would happen. Do the four points listed above “fit the facts” that are recorded for us in the gospels?

The Last Supper
Jesus’s words and actions teach us his own explanation of the meaning and purpose of his death.

  1. Christ’s death was central to his mission:
    The Lord’s Supper, which was instituted by Jesus, and which is the only regular commemorative act authorized by him, dramatizes neither his birth nor his life, neither his words nor his works, but only his death. Nothing could indicate more clearly the central significance that Jesus attached to his death. It was by his death that he wished above all else to be remembered.
  2. Christ’s death took place for the purpose of establishing a new covenant and obtaining forgiveness of sin. His blood is “the blood of the new covenant,  which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
  3. Christ’s death needs to be appropriated personally. The dramatization in the Lord’s Supper
    did not consist of one actor on the stage with a dozen in the audience. No, it involved them as well as him. … The eating and drinking were, and still are, a vivid acted parable of receiving Christ as our crucified Saviour and of feeding on him in our hearts by faith.

The Garden of Gethsemane
The “cup” symbolised the agony of enduring the judgment of God that our sins deserved.

God’s purpose of love was to save sinners, and to save them righteously; but this would be impossible without the sin-bearing death of the Saviour.

And so Jesus resolved to drink the cup; he willingly went finish his work by enduring the agony of the cross.

The Cry of Dereliction on the Cross
This section focuses on the meaning of Jesus’s cry, “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?”Stott understands these words to mean that “an actual and dreadful separation took place between the Father and the Son.” This is one place where I’ll have to disagree with him, although I don’t have time to explain my reasoning in this post. Still, I do think the Jesus’s cry shows us something of his anguish on the cross. And when he cries out, “It is finished,” he is indeed declaring that he has accomplished our salvation.

Stott sums thing up by saying that the cross enforces these three truths:

  1. Our sin must be extremely horrible if there was no other way to forgive it but that Christ should bear it himself.
  2. God’s love must be wonderful beyond comprehension if he “pursued us even to the desolate anguish of the cross….”
  3. Salvation must be a free gift. Christ declared it “finished.” What is left for us to contribute?

And so ends the first part of The Cross of Christ. Next week’s reading is from the second part, The Heart of the Cross.


How James Fits In

Last week I quoted a bit of the answer to the question “Does the Pauline teaching on justification contradict Jesus’ message?” from 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law, by Thomas R. Schreiner. This time I’m quoting from his concluding statement on what some scholars see as more contradictory teaching on justification in the New Testament—the supposed contradictory views of Paul and James on justification by works.

James and Paul do not actually contradict each other on the role of faith and works in justification. James affirms with Paul that faith is the root and works are the fruit. James addresses a different situation from Paul, for the latter denies that works can function as the basis of a right relation with God. A right relation with God is obtained by faith alone. Paul responds to those who tried to establish a right relation with God on the basis of works. Paul argues that God declares those to be in the right who lack any righteousness, if they put their faith in Christ for salvation. James counters those who think that a right relation with God is genuine if there is faith without any subsequent works. James looks at God’s pronouncement of righteousness from another angle, not as the fundamental basis of one’s relation to God but as the result of faith. James responds to antinomianism, whereas Paul reacts to legalism. 

Both Paul and James, according to Schreiner, 

affirm the priority of faith in justification, and both also affirm that good works are the fruit of faith but not the basis of justification. What James teaches, then, fits with Paul and what we have seen elsewhere in the New Testament.

You’ll probably recognize this the standard Protestant answer to the question of a contradiction between Paul and James on justification by faith. Schreiner doesn’t get to this conclusion, however, because he thinks Paul and James define the word justify differently. “[T]he common view,” says he, “that [justify] in James means ‘proved to be righteous’ or ‘shown to be righteous’ is unpersuasive.” 

Nope, it’s a little more complicated than just using a word differently. I can’t reproduce Schreiner’s argument here, but I will say it makes for an interesting chapter.


Theological Term of the Week

“Latin for “and from the Son, ” a term  referring to a clause inserted into the Nicence Creed to indicate that the Holy Spirit proceeds not from the Father only but also from the Son. The controversy that arose over this doctrinal point contributed to the split between the Eastern and Western churches in A. D. 1054.”1

  • Text of the Nicene Creed with the filioque clause in italics: 

    We believe in one God,
          the Father almighty,
          maker of heaven and earth,
          of all things visible and invisible.

    And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
          the only Son of God,
          begotten from the Father before all ages,
               God from God,
               Light from Light,
               true God from true God,
          begotten, not made;
          of the same essence as the Father.
          Through him all things were made.
          For us and for our salvation
               he came down from heaven;
               he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary,
               and was made human.
               He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate;
               he suffered and was buried.
               The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures.
               He ascended to heaven
               and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
               He will come again with glory
               to judge the living and the dead.
               His kingdom will never end.

    And we believe in the Holy Spirit,
          the Lord, the giver of life.
          He proceeds from the Father [and the Son],
          and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.
          He spoke through the prophets.
          We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
          We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
          We look forward to the resurrection of the dead,
          and to life in the world to come. Amen.

  • Scriptural evidence for the filioque clause:
  • Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you (John 16:7 ESV)

  • From Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem:
  • In the light of John 15:26 and 16:7, where Jesus said that he would send the Holy Spirit into the world, it seems there could be no objection to such a statement if it referred to the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son at a point in time (particularly at Pentecost). But this was a statement about the nature of the Trinity, and the phrase was understood to speak of the eternal relationship between the Holy Spirit and the Son, something Scripture never explicitly discusses.

    …Is there a correct position on this question? The weight of evidence (slim though it is) seems clearly to favor the western church. In spite of the fact that John 15:26 says that the Spirit of truth “proceeds from the Father,” this does not deny that he proceeds also from the Son (just as John 14:26 says that the Fahter will send the Holy Spirit, but John 16:7 says that the Son will send the Holy Spirit). In fact, in the same sentence in John 15:26 Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit as one “whom I shall send to you from the Father.” And if the Son together with the Father sends the Spirit into the world, by analogy it would seem appropriate to say that this reflects eternal ordering of their relationships. This is not something that we can clearly insist on based on any specific verse, but much of our understanding of the eternal relationships among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit comes by analogy from what Scripture tells us about the way they relate to the creation in time.

Learn more:
  1. GotQuestions.org: What is the filioque clause / controversy?
  2. BELIEVE Religious Information Source: Filioque Controversy
  3. James E. Kiefer: The Filioque Clause
  4. John Starke: A Pastoral Case for the Filioque Clause
  5. John S. Romanides: The Filioque
Related terms:

Filed under Creeds and Confessions.

1From Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem.

Do you have a term you’d like to see featured here as a Theological Term of the Week? If you email it to me, I’ll seriously consider using it, giving you credit for the suggestion and linking back to your blog when I do.

Clicking on the Theological Term graphic at the top of this post will take you to a list of all the previous theological terms in alphabetical order.


Round the Sphere Again: Concerning Christ

In the Incarnation
A warning against “novel ideas” concerning the person of Christ.

Whenever the discussion turns to Christology and the Incarnation, people seem to crawl out of the woodwork and start shooting from the hip. This is one area of theology where orthodoxy is very meticulously defined and has been accepted by all major traditions without serious challenge since the fourth century. Why anyone would want to enter the fray with a “Well, I think this: [your novel idea here]” kind of argument is mystifying to me. 

The reason these issues were hashed out so carefully in the early church is that they are absolutely foundational. And it behooves us all to study historical theology and the major creeds on these matters before launching into speculation. 

(Phil Johnson at Pyromaniacs)

Here’s what might be the perfect example of the sort of DIY Christology that Phil Johnson warns about: Leslie Wiggins reports that a speaker at a Women of Faith conference she attended taught that “Jesus wasn’t onmipotent or omniscient.” You’d think that would shock those who were listening, but instead “8,000 women erupted in applause and high-pitched woo-hoos.” 

I wonder if the women attending weren’t familiar enough with the orthodox teaching on the nature of Christ to recognize unorthodoxy when they heard it. Or did they just not care?

In Eternity
Andy Nasselli answers this question: Does the Son submit to the Father eternally? (mp3)

In Him
Kim Shay quotes Derek Thomas:

Even as mature Christians we need to remind ourselves continually of the basis of our acceptance - it is entirely because of what Christ has done for us. Thus, faith in Christ is not a one time event; we must live by faith each day.

(The Upward Call)


A Catechism for Girls and Boys

Part II: Questions about The Ten Commandments

45. Q. What does the second commandment teach us?
       A. To worship God in the right way, and to avoid idolatry.

(Click through to read scriptural proof.)

Click to read more ...